Belkin Wi-Fi Phone for Skype

In terms of visual flair the Belkin Wi-Fi Phone is very good indeed. The team has clearly taken a few clues from Sony, especially its V600i model, although the build quality isn’t quite as good. Feature-wise, it’s not so rosy. There’s none of the basic Calculator, Calendar, or Alarm functions. Talk time is limited to 3.5 hours and standby drains after 30 hours, so you’ll need to keep it on almost constant recharge. Oddly, there’s no web browser either.

As you roam, the device searches automatically for open WiFi zones. However, we often got 30 seconds searching for an open connection, another 30 seconds trying to connect, and frequent ‘no connection’ errors. When you do manage to connect the service is erratic. Here is, verbatim, what our first SkypeOut conversation went like: “Hello.” “Hello.” [crackle] “Hi, it’s Mark, I’m testing out a new phone.” “What?” [silence] “Are you there?” “Yes. What’s wrong?” I’m testing out a new Skype phone.” “What?” “It works over the internet.” [fuzz] “I keep hearing myself.” “What?” “Every time I talk I hear myself talk back. Like an echo.” [bzzzzz…]

Bear in mind that this wasn’t over a dodgy WiFi connection at McDonald’s. It was at home using a dedicated, and otherwise perfectly usable, WiFi connection registering 45 per cent signal strength. Admittedly Skype To Skype calls work a little better, but these are still dependent on your WiFi connection.

When you’re out and about it’s harder than you think to find a decent, open, and free WiFi connection – even in central London. To help combat this, Belkin has teamed up with WiFi operator The Cloud (www.thecloud.net/belkin/) to provide a service called Ultra Talk, which will enable you to use the Belkin Phone at one of 7,000 locations throughout Europe. Pricing for the service hadn’t been decided at time of going to press, although The Cloud charges £11.99 per month for its full Ultra WiFi service.

A major flaw is that calling a UK mobile on SkypeOut costs a hefty 16p per minute. On top of this, to receive calls you’ll have to purchase a SkypeIn number separately, which costs an additional £23 per year.

OUR VERDICT

The Macworld team was genuinely excited by news of this product, and have been waiting for weeks to test one. Sadly, it simply doesn’t work. As an example of future-tech, the Belkin Wi-Fi Phone is interesting; but as a viable product to buy it’s a no-go.

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